Irene Sterian: In Memoriam

I am heartbroken to share the news that Irene Sterian passed away on May 8. Irene was director, technology and innovation development at Celestica, and before that held engineering roles at IBM.

But she is better known as the always cheerful mentor to younger engineers through SMTA, the REMAP technology accelerator she founded, and before that, NGen Canada,  Canada’s Advanced Manufacturing Supercluster.

She is survived by her husband, three children, brother and mother, not to mention legions of colleagues and friends.

For details on how to remember her, please click here.

Done Deal

The Printed Circuit Engineering Association (PCEA) today announced it has closed the acquisition of the functional assets of UP Media Group Inc., including its industry leading publications and trade shows.

The deal, which was announced during the PCB West conference and exhibition last October, includes the annual PCB West and PCB East trade shows; PRINTED CIRCUIT DESIGN & FAB (PCD&F) and CIRCUITS ASSEMBLY magazine; the PCB UPdate digital newsletter; the PCB Chat podcast series; the PCB2Day workshops and webinars; and Printed Circuit University, the dedicated online training platform.

Printed Circuit Engineering Association (PCEA) (pcea.net) is a nonprofit association that promotes printed circuit engineering as a profession and encourages, facilitates, and promotes the exchange of information and integration of new design concepts through communications, seminars, workshops, and professional certification through a network of local and regional PCEA-affiliated groups. PCEA serves the global PCB community through print, digital and online products, as well as live and virtual events. Membership is free to individuals in the electronics industry.

If You Thought Foxconn Is Just a Manufacturer …

… Think again.

Foxconn, the world’s largest EMS/ODM, with annual revenues now topping $200 billion (!), said this week it now has more than 54,000 invention patents worldwide.

Some 63% of them have been issued in the US (17,600 patents) and Japan (16,200).

Among the most common technology areas:

  • Computer accessories 17%
  • Semiconductors 14%
  • Processing and detection technologies 13%
  • Robots and optoelectronics equipment 12%
  • Display equipment 11%

If you wonder what the end-game is, think worldwide monopoly.

What’s Old is News

God love the Internet.

Nothing ever ages. Or, better said, anything can be reborn in a moment.

Take for instance, today’s report in DigiTimes.

“India officials are allegedly subsidizing US$10 billion in semiconductor manufacturing, according to Reuters citing knowledgeable sources.”

A quick review of Reuters stories over the past 90 days show no such reporting, however.

Is DigiTimes wrong?

Nope. But one must go back to Mar. 31 to find the piece: “India is offering more than $1 billion in cash to each semiconductor company that sets up manufacturing units in the country as it seeks to build on its smartphone assembly industry and strengthen its electronics supply chain, two officials said.”

This happens a lot, actually. I got a kick out of a recent recycling by multiple industry news aggregators that claimed Epec has acquired NetVia.

“Hmmm,” I thought. “That’s weird.” Because I am pretty confident that already happened.

And sure enough, that deal dates to November 2020.

What happens is that aggregators use alerts to find news, and crawlers sometimes bring old information back to the surface. Unsuspecting or inattentive editors grab the “new story” and link to it for that day’s newsletter.

And everything old is new again.

Tin Whiskers 101: Part 2: What Causes Them

Folks,

Continuing our series on tin whiskers. In the last post we discussed what they are. in this post we will discuss what causes them.

Tin whiskers are primarily caused by compressive stresses in tin. The most common cause of the stresses is copper diffusion into the tin as seen in Figure 1a. Such diffusion is common when tin is plated, melted or evaporated on copper. Copper preferentially diffuses into tin exacerbating tin whisker production.

Figure 1. Some causes of tin whiskers

 Another cause of tin whiskers can occur when the tin is plated, melted or evaporated on a material that has a lower coefficient of expansion than the tin, such as alloy 42 or ceramic. When temperature increases, the tin is constrained by the lower coefficient of expansion material. This constraint causes compressive stresses in the tin that can result in tin whiskers. See Figure 1b.

Less common causes are corrosion, as seen in Figure 1c and mechanical stresses as seen in Figure 1d.

Since copper diffusion is one of the most likely causes of tin whiskers, this mechanism deserves elaboration. The left image in Figure 2 depicts the mechanism of copper diffusion into tin. The mechanism is so strong that the diffusion of the copper often leaves voids in the copper. Such voids are called Kirkendall voids. The right image in Figure 2 is an x-ray map of copper (green) diffusing into the tin (black).

Figure 2. Copper diffusing into tin.

Clearly, one way to minimize this type of tin whisker growth is to prevent copper diffusing into tin. In a future post, we will discuss this and other tin whisker mitigation techniques. 

Cheers,

Dr. Ron

Best Wishes,

The ‘Seers’

It’s always interesting when the seers, also known as the industry’s journalists, get together for a chat.

Hosted by Mike Konrad, I joined Trevor Galbraith, Phil Stoten and Eric Miscoll to discuss post-pandemic production, innovations in our industry, supply chain and labor shortages, and of course, some predictions.

The podcast can be listened to or downloaded from PCB Chat here: https://upmg.podbean.com/e/rm-76-meet-the-press/

Or, if you are really brave, you can see us in action here:

EMS on Overdrive

The EMS industry has posted several straight months of what some consider excessively high book-to-bill ratios. The April peak of 1.62 has only marginally fallen over the past couple months and, as of this writing, was 1.48 in June, the most recent data available.

As a refresher, the ratio is calculated by dividing the amount (in dollars) of bookings by the amount in shipments. In other words, if over a set time period a company gets $110 worth of orders and ships $100 worth of product, its book-to-bill ratio would be 1.10. A ratio over 1.0 is considered an indicator of future market growth.

So a positive ratio is a good sign, generally speaking, but too much of a good thing makes folks nervous. And ratios in the 1.40 and above range are historically at the high end.

Some are concerned of an overheated market, but conversations with several leading EMS firms suggest instead that OEMs are offering longer forecasts, which are inflating the numerator. For instance, if the typical window was six months, it might be nine or even 12 months now. That pushes more “orders” into the data pile, but it’s a mathematical anomaly, not a sign of double-booking.

I don’t expect the sky to fall, at least this time.

An Antidote to a Complex Environment

Years ago, ahead of a US election, I used this space to pen an open letter to the new president. I wrote that the race for office was heated and intense, but the winner should put aside any ill feelings and work toward the betterment of all Americans.

The column was timed to hit readers’ desks in November, just after the election results were announced. Magazine deadlines being what they were, of course, I wrote it in early October – more than four weeks prior to election day. In short, I submitted it to the printer having no clue who was actually going to win.

More than a few readers didn’t catch that little nuance, and they filled my inbox with screeds both positive and negative about the outcome, projecting their own biases on my musings and utterly missing the point I was trying to make about leadership.

Since then, I’ve stayed away – far away – from anything that even hints of politics, sensing it’s too charged a subject to use even as a metaphor for a larger point.

So, when an industry friend whom I respect more than he will ever know suggested I write an editorial about electronics companies requiring vaccination, and, in his words, “come out swinging in favor of it,” my first reaction was indifference.

Then we conducted a survey of US readers and found just under 60% plan to attend face-to-face events this year, and the top reason for staying home is, of course, Covid-19. That’s no way to get business done, not when there’s a perfectly good vaccine – more than one, actually – available and in most cases free.

As Covid-19 cases increase across the nation, primarily with unvaccinated persons, it’s hard not to be frustrated at the current state of the world. This is a largely preventable disease, , provided we choose to prevent it.

Although I will probably pay dearly for using this space as a soapbox for something that goes beyond electronics engineering, I can’t keep quiet knowing just how badly it’s affecting our industry, not to mention our world.

With that, I strongly encourage all companies – not just US-based ones – to mandate vaccinations for all workers, full-time, part-time and contract-based. Any visitors to their offices should be required to show proof of vaccination too. 

I realize that the unvaccinated have their reasons, and I’m not going to argue with them. But let it be known I wholly disagree with their stance. We must ensure we are doing everything we can to protect the health of our employees and each other. It’s time to take a stand.

Would-Be Foxconn Beneficiaries: Always A Bridesmaid

The University of Wisconsin this week became the latest would-be benefactor of Foxconn’s pretend largesse to acknowledge that it has been, in fact, jilted.

A UW-Madison response to a public records request by the Wisconsin State Journal on Monday shows the Taiwanese electronics company gave $700,000 in the first year of a five-year agreement and no money in the second or third year. The amount to date represents less than 1% of the original commitment.

“I am not at this point expecting to receive that gift,” Blank said in an interview with the State Journal editorial board last week. “It’d be nice. I think it’s unlikely.”

— UW Chancellor Rebecca Blank

UW should feel no embarrassment at falling for the Taiwanese ODM’s promises of riches — in this case, $100 million in grants. The list of brides left standing at the altar by Foxconn is long and global.

Perhaps one day, when Foxconn comes knocking, the prospective bride will demand the ring — and the cash — upfront.

Somehow, however, I tend to doubt it.